|Dieting is one of those things that is completely integrated into
American culture. On any given day, a huge portion of the U.S. population
is "on a diet" and "counting calories" in one
way or another. And look at how many of the diet names in the following
list you recognize:
- The Atkins Diet
- The Cabbage Soup Diet
- The Grapefruit Diet
- The Hollywood Miracle Diet
- The Rice Diet
- The Scarsdale Diet
- The South Beach Diet
- The Zone Diet
You probably recognize many of these names because you hear them
all the time!
The reason why most diets tend not to work for very long is because
they are not sustainable. A person gains weight because he or she
consumes more calories per day than needed. The diet creates a temporary
deficit. When the diet ends, the person goes back to normal eating
and the weight comes back.
Let's look at an example. Say that you weigh 150 pounds. That means
that you burn 1,800 calories per day in a resting state. Let's also
imagine that in the course of a day you burn 200 more calories living
your life -- walking up and down steps, carrying in the groceries
and so on. Your calorie needs then are, on average, 2,000 calories
per day. Now let's further imagine that, on average, you consume
2,050 calories per day. On a daily basis your body is taking in,
and therefore storing, 50 calories more than it needs. So every
70 days (3,500 calories in a pound / 50 calories each day = 70 days)
you gain 1 pound (0.45 kg). If that "50 extra calories per
day" trend continues, then over the course of a year you would
gain 5 pounds. This, by the way, is the pattern for a big portion
of the U.S. population. If you over-consume by just a few calories
per day, over time you will gain weight. Keep in mind that just
one Oreo-type cookie contains 50 calories, so over-consuming is
Now, you go on a diet -- the amazing "Get Slim Miracle Diet."
On this diet, you consume nothing but 2 cups of brown rice and a
can of Vienna sausages, along with all the onions you care to eat,
every day. You start this diet and you are consuming only 1,000
calories per day. You also start jogging 2 miles a day. That means
that, on a typical day, you are consuming 1,200 calories less than
you need. Over the course of three days (3,500 calories in a pound
/ 1,200 calories each day = approximately 3 days), you will lose
1 pound of weight. You keep on this diet for two months and lose
The day you go off this diet, what is going to happen? First, you
are probably going to eat a lot more than normal because you have
been eating nothing but rice and Vienna sausages for two months!
Then you will settle into your "normal eating pattern"
that you had before the diet. And eventually all of the weight comes
This is why diets don't work for most people. You do lose weight,
but then go off the diet and gain it back. What is needed instead
is a sustainable diet -- a food consumption and exercise plan --
that lets you live a normal life and eat normal foods in a normal
There are three major food groups: carbohydrate, fat and protein.
These have different functions in the body.
Carbohydrate is the body's preferred source of fuel. Carbohydrate
should make up about 50% of daily energy intake. There are two main
types of carbohydrate - complex and simple. Complex carbohydrates
include starch and fibre. Simple carbohydrates include sugars.
We should get most of our carbohydrate from the complex carbohydrates.
These include starchy "fillers" such as bread, potatoes,
pasta, rice and chapati. Complex carbohydrate foods tend to be bulky,
so eating them makes a satisfying meal. They can also be rich in
nutrients and fibre (which is good for the bowel), and low in calories
relative to their weight. Each gram provides around four calories.
Choose wholegrain varieties whenever possible as these also contain
The rest of our carbohydrate intake comes from foods and drinks
that contain sugar, including fruit and vegetables, milk, confectionery,
sugar and soft drinks.
Most people would benefit from eating a higher proportion of starchy
carbohydrate in their daily diet. This tends to result in a diet
that is lower in fat, and higher in dietary fibre, especially if
wholegrain varieties are chosen.
Eating at least five portions of fruit and vegetables each day
is also highly recommended. There is good evidence that fruit and
vegetables cut the risk of disease, including some cancers and heart
disease. In any case, they can be filling, low in calories and high
Foods high in refined sugar such as table sugar, sugary drinks
and confectionery provide "empty calories". This means
that apart from the energy the sugar provides, there is often very
little else of nutritional value. Sugar also contributes to tooth
decay and gum disease, and can cause blood sugar levels to fluctuate
excessively. It is a good idea to limit your sugar intake.
The body readily converts alcohol to carbohydrate - each gram provides
about seven calories. Like refined sugar, alcohol provides "empty
calories". This is one of the reasons why alcohol should be
limited in a healthy diet.
Fat is the most energy-dense nutrient, providing around nine calories
of energy in each gram. Fat also provides fatty acids which are
needed for many vital functions in the body.
In small quantities, fat is essential for good health but it should
represent no more than 35% of daily energy intake.
Eating a lot of fat, particularly saturated fat, is unhealthy.
It increases the risk of cardiovascular disease (including heart
attack and stroke) and, because it is so rich in calories, makes
it much easier to become obese. Most of us should aim to reduce
the proportion of saturated fats in our diet, and also the total
fat content of our diet.
Saturated fats are solid at room temperature, and come from meat
and dairy products. A high intake of saturated fat increases the
risk of cardiovascular disease. You should aim to consume no more
than 10% of your total energy from saturated fats. Cutting the fat
off meat and eating lower-fat versions of dairy foods - semi-skimmed
milk, yoghurt instead of cream, etc - can help to achieve this.
Unsaturated fats come mainly from vegetable and fish sources. They
tend to be liquid at room temperature. Unsaturated fats are divided
into two types - monounsaturates and polyunsaturates. They are both
healthier than saturated fats, and it makes sense to replace some
of the saturated fats in your diet with unsaturated ones - replacing
butter with olive oil, meat with fish.
Most of us need to increase our intake of omega 3 fatty acids.
This type of fatty acid helps to protect us against heart disease.
Eating a portion of oily fish (eg sardines, mackerel or salmon)
every week is a good way to meet your omega 3 requirements.
Cholesterol is another type of fat, which is mostly made by the
body in the liver. High levels of cholesterol in the blood increase
the risk of heart disease. Certain foods are high in cholesterol,
including eggs and offal. However, dietary cholesterol does not
contribute much to blood cholesterol in most people. Saturated fats
contribute more to blood cholesterol, so it's more important to
Protein provides about four calories in each gram, but this energy
is less readily released than from carbohydrate. Protein should
represent around 15% of our daily calorie intake.
We mainly use protein to build and repair our body tissues. All
animal and plant foods contain some protein. Protein provided by
animal foods is closest to the proteins needed by the body. However,
a balanced vegetarian diet also provides adequate protein.
Most people in the UK eat a reasonable amount and don't need to
alter their protein intake. However, it makes sense to ensure that
the protein foods you choose are low in fat. For instance, instead
of high fat chicken nuggets, try lean pieces of chicken or pulses
such as beans or chickpeas.
As well as the major food groups, we need a small amount of many
vitamins and minerals. These perform various jobs in the body, helping
chemical and biological reactions take place.
Vitamin or mineral deficiencies can lead to illness - scurvy in
the case of vitamin C and rickets in vitamin D, although these deficiency
illnesses are now rare in the UK. Vitamins and minerals also help
to support the immune system and guard against illness in the long
Vitamin and mineral supplements
Most of us should be able to get all the vitamins and minerals we
need from a balanced diet. Certain groups of people will benefit
from a vitamin or mineral supplement. These include children from
six months to five years old and women who are pregnant or might
get pregnant, who should take folic acid supplements.
Some other groups of people chose to take supplements. If you choose
to take a supplement, don't be tempted to take very high doses as
some vitamins and minerals are toxic in large quantities.
Practical tips for a better diet
Eat more wholegrain starchy carbohydrates, ie wholemeal bread, brown
rice, wholegrain cereals. It can help to alter the balance of everyday
meals, for instance, more bread and less sandwich filling, more
pasta and less creamy sauce.
Eat more fruit and vegetables, aiming for at least five portions
a day. Include fruit at breakfast and salad at lunch.
Cut down on salt by eating less processed food, such as ready meals,
and adding less salt to food.
Eat a varied diet. Change your shopping list every week to help
keep you out of unhealthy food ruts and make eating more enjoyable.
Eat regular meals - although it doesn't matter when you eat your
food, a regular routine helps most people to control their diet
and their weight.
Control your portion sizes so that over time, if not necessarily
every day, the amount of energy you consume matches your level of
Try to be more physically active. Aim for 30 minutes of physical
activity on most days of the week. Activity helps to regulate your
appetite, and means that you can eat more without gaining weight.
Drink alcohol only within sensible limits: not more than 14 units
per week for women (and no more than three in any one day) and not
more than 21 units per week for men (and no more than four in any